Swiss central banker Maechler warns against premature rate hike

ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss National Bank Governing Board member Andrea Maechler has given another hint that the central bank will stick with its expansive monetary policy, saying low Swiss inflation gave little reason for it to change direction.

FILE PHOTO - Swiss National Bank (SNB) Governing Board member Andrea Maechler gestures after a news conference in Bern, Switzerland December 14, 2017. REUTERS Denis Balibouse

Maechler warned against raising interest rates too early, a move she said could be counterproductive for inflation and the overall Swiss economy.

“If we would now end our expansive monetary policy, there would be a big risk that we would endanger the favorable development,” she told Swiss newspaper Handelszeitung in an interview set for publication on Thursday.

She said Swiss inflation both this year and next remained subdued, although the risk of deflation had been removed.

The Swiss franc also remained highly valued, Maechler said, adding the currency had even strengthened in recent months mainly due to the weakening of the dollar CHF=.

The SNB has stuck to a strategy of charging negative interest rates and intervening on currency markets for more than three years as it sought to quell demand for the franc.

The policy bore fruit last year with the franc losing nearly 9 percent of its value against the euro EURCHF=, aiding Switzerland's export-reliant economy.

Other central banks have started normalizing their policies, with the European Central Bank taking a small step in weaning the euro zone economy off its protracted stimulus by dropping a long-standing pledge to expand its bond buying if needed.

The U.S. Federal Reserve raised interest rates last week and forecast at least two more hikes for 2018.

Maechler rejected claims that the SNB was powerless and needed the ECB to start raising interest rates before the Swiss could start monetary tightening.

“That would be a distorted picture,” Maechler said. “With us despite the solid growth there are still factors which dampen inflation.

“The franc is still highly valued, and in recent months it has even become stronger. Additionally the situation in the currency markets remains fragile.”

The interest rate spread between Switzerland and rates abroad also remained very small, she added.

“It is hardly foreseeable that there will be a fundamental change in demand for the franc,” Maechler said.

The SNB this month cut its inflation forecast to see consumer prices rising 0.6 percent this year and 0.9 percent in 2018.

Editing by Michael Shields